3D Printed Water Wheel Pump for BMW
BMW engineers spend each day with high-performance machines, testing and tweaking and searching for ways to improve. In 1989, they began experimenting with additive manufacturing - what we know today as "3D printing."
The world is just now beginning to realize the vast possibilities of 3D printing. BMW recognized those same possibilities more than 25 years ago: the cost-effective creation of prototypes, the testing and improvement of manufacturing processes, the efficient production of small parts.
On May 1, BMW celebrated a 3D printing milestone when one of its German Touring Car Masters (DTM) racecars carried the 500th 3D printed water wheel pump. Today, BMW refers to its 3D printing as "generative production methods." By any name, this manufacturing approach is achieving exciting results.
3D Printing: The Process That Works
DTM racecars and their powertrains operate under unimaginable stress. The powertrain itself includes a number of moving parts, and it runs at full capacity up to 70 percent of the time. In 2010, BMW engineers viewed the plastic water wheel pump as a problem. They saw 3D printing as a solution.
BMW began testing to create a one-piece, lightweight metal water wheel pump. Engineers relied on more than two decades of 3D printing experience to guide their project. The final process included selective laser melting (SLM) that builds up 0.05-millimeter layers of aluminum alloy powder. The result: A rugged-yet-precise water wheel pump that performs impeccably. The 500th 3D printed water wheel pump performed with the quality and durability of each of its predecessors.
Cost-Effective, Customized, Precise
The water wheel pump is a perfect example of where 3D printing shines brightest. Ideal conditions for 3D printing include the needs for:
- Small batches
- High customization
- Cost effectiveness
- Precision and accuracy
This water wheel pump is just one of many projects BMW has addressed with 3D printing technology. The automaker previously printed biodegradable concept cars, F1-style wheelchairs, and an ergonomic thumb support that prevents plant workers from development pain. These developments further demonstrate the utility or 3D printing, inspiring others to testing and innovation. With a respected brand like BMW leading the way in this space, the incorporation of 3D printing technology is sure to expand to other organizations and into other industries.